Living a slow and purposeful life in France was always the goal. The idea of sitting in the garden, drinking coffee and reading the masses of books which I have accumulated over the years (and not yet got round to reading) is something which I aspired to long before we started our journey to becoming permanent residents in France.
The problem with my dream is that it was a little idealistic for several reasons:
Property in France is cheap, but the cost of living is not
It’s wonderful to be able to rent cheaply, buy a home with a small mortgage, or purchase a property outright – gratefully, these are all very achievable goals for a foreigner like me. However, I think it’s important to be reminded that there is a cost to living wherever you lay your hat. Basic expenses still exist even if you do nothing ostentatious. This might include:
- Subsistence (even if you grow a lot of food it’s unlikely you will be fully self-sufficient)
- Utilities (gas, water, electricity)
For us, this has meant working – and working legally – including paying our taxes and social charges to ensure that we are contributing to the country and earning our right to stay. Setting our French businesses up to allow us to find customers and clients, and meet the minimum income requirements to be considered self-supporting on our Carte de Sejour application has been a stressful process.
We have been fortunate to have been able to use some of our rudimentary French language skills when organising ourselves, and at one point Graham had to complete a 30+ hour course in French just to be able to register as an artisan (a requirement which has now be annulled). It was pretty much a vertical learning curve in so many respects, but again one that we, now at eighteen months in, we feel that we have a good handle on and can manage without stress.
The right to remain in France
We are in the process of each acquiring our Carte de Sejour (for the most up-to-date information on gaining legal residency post-Brexit I highly recommend checking our the Remain in France Together website). Our fingerprints have been taken at our local préfecture and we are waiting for some kind of news – any kind of news (!!) – that we have been accepted. The Carte is the culmination of years of work to understand the system that we hope to join, so to receive this would really mean a lot to me – a formal recognition of our efforts.
Building my version of a quiet life in France
I found it pretty (naively) surprising that when I moved to France, my life didn’t suddenly just become very calm and tranquil – full of book reading and coffee drinking! My life in the UK had been hectic. I was worn out. The process of selling our Bristol house, closing my businesses and moving our things had depleted my energy to levels I had not known it possible to function with. I think I am still recovering from that exhausting process, just over eighteen months on.
Happily, I can now report that things have become a lot easier – but I do seem to have this habit of finding that life has become calmer, and then adding some chaos to it. I’ll take it to my therapist…!
Adopting les animaux de compagnie
Adding pets to our life has been a very rewarding, but sometimes stressful process. Margot – our seven-year-old rescue cocker spaniel – is a wonderful addition to our home, but severely traumatised by her difficult earlier life. Being solely used to breed pedigree puppies, she had no understanding of boundaries, living in a home with people, she had no lead training, was poorly socialised and is chronically anxious. She has been a testing but joyful dog and I would not be without her, but bit by bit these small changes (smaller than moving countries I suppose) have accumulated to give a feeling of life being full, and so the books and films that I long to absorb have felt a little far away.
If you’ve been following my Instagram posts you will have seen that we recently added a rescue kitten to our home – Percy – and that she too has become an adorable little character – but managing our small (currently) four-room home with three pets has become a bit onerous – so if you should see me somewhere on social media talking about adopting another animal anytime soon – STOP ME! It is lovely to have so many fluffy people in our home, but it does add to a) the cost of living and b) the time it takes before I’m able to have my first coffee of the morning, because of course, everyone has needs (hello chickens…).
Learning to say “no”
So the point of this post (I promise, I’m getting there…) is something which comes up again and again in my chats with you all on social media – how we all have to learn to say no to things, and to put boundaries in place to keep ourselves well and allow space to replenish.
I’ve not always felt particularly able to do that given the constraints upon us as a result of Brexit – the minimum income requirement being the biggest. It propelled me into a place of putting a huge amount of energy into my work, and as a result, I wasn’t especially available to anyone for a time, physically or emotionally.
Ironically, 2020 was the year in which I decided that I would start living a slow and purposeful life in France. I decided to travel more and visit friends, to take regular time off work and to invest more in my friendships. Of course, thanks to COVID-19 that didn’t happen, and instead 2020 became another year of work being extremely draining. Not because I was throwing myself into it, but rather because of the collective trauma of our societies, it was throwing itself at me.
Working as a talking therapist going through the same issues as my clients in real-time was a first for me – and I imagine many therapists. But with new, extremely robust boundaries I found that I was able to navigate my way back to a place of calm, and get myself much closer to where I have for so long wanted to be – in the luxurious position of being able to choose whether I read that book, or drink that coffee, or whatever.
Because I choose to, not because I *have* to.